De facto, animation is international in the way it’s produced and broadcast, but also in regard to its target audience. Constraints are always there, from sheet of blank paper to finished product. Organised conjointly with La Guilde Française des Scénaristes, this conference treats the theme of writing, from a perspective of scenario and storyboard. It explores links between writing and visual elements in scenario designing and raises questions to ponder: is it fun to address international viewers? More especially, how can one write for such an audience?
Scriptwriter, Head Writer
storyboard, scriptwriter, writing, La Guilde Française des Scénaristes, global market, Wildseed, Peter Pan, international audience, narrative thread, VOD
Clélia Constantine gives an introduction to La Guilde Française des Scénaristes, of which she is vice-president. This guild strives to improve writing conditions and can facilitate the organisation of authors by assisting them in securing the best scenario options. She has worked for the global market when serving as writing director for The New Adventures of Peter Pan and Mademoiselle Zazie. Peter Pan is an Indian co-production with German (ZDF) and French broadcasters, for which she developed a franchise.
"I think that from the very start you must have an international outlook. That’s what producers want, since they need different broadcasters to finance animation projects. The channels have different demands, and pitches are adjusted in relation to given broadcasters. For Peter Pan we told the German broadcaster that it was an adventure-filled concept. With the BBC we emphasised the comic side of the series. We must guess at the expectations of international broadcasters," she explains.
For Thomas Meyer-Hermann, the net offers more possibilities for testing the opinion waters. His company began as a short-film directors’ collective but he decided that he wanted to direct as an independent. "Even if you are an independent creative, you want to know if your idea is going to interest an international audience. Cartoon Forum also is a good place to probe the various broadcasters," he explains.
As for Jesse Cleverly, he manages the Wildseed investment fund which sponsors 50 projects for as much as 10,000£ apiece. Five of these will be followed and produced with a 100,000£ budget. He evokes the context: "A creative buys a computer and designs a production, but broadcasters are subject to more pressure, and productions require financing and strategic advice. The age, gender, format and broadcast slot all impact the design of your product. Broadcasters invest money and think they are the decision-makers for the project. The broadcasters all spar with the producers: each one has his own creative view."
When writers start a project, they have two choices: they are either hired to adapt an existing property, or they speculate on a project which they have personally fleshed out. Then it’s time for development, when the purchased project must be turned into a production. Next, a bible must be produced which includes character development and a written treatment of the narrative thread and the pilot reel script from first to final draft.
For Clélia Constantine and Jesse Cleverly, because the world market is dictated by the American model, talking about international writing actually boils down to talking about American writing. As such, writing dialogues for the USA or else for the world are two very different things. American films’ structures are based on three-act scenarios following the principle "Discover your inner hero." The individual is enhanced; the hero changes his or her point of view and finds a path forward.
Jesse Cleverly observes that authors often write stories too quickly, whereas it takes time to think the characters through. Audiences must understand who the characters are and must be able to believe their behaviour throughout the story. For viewers this successful embedding of characters into a story can make a big difference between something judged to be well or poorly written.
Thomas Meyer-Hermann notes the lack of tie-in between those who write and those who design visuals: "It may be logical to write a bible so as to avoid forgetting one aspect of the story or project, but visuals can spark ideas in writers. It’s good if you can link the writing with development of the "vision". I do believe that director, storyboarder and scriptwriter must communicate together. There are different steps of production in different countries, and at times there’s one link missing. If you are an animation writer, you must think in visual terms but this cross-pollination between writing and visuals is often neglected."
Clélia Constantine adds that you must move fast in the context of an industrial production: "You don’t have time to turn back. Your organisation must be clear from the start if you want to ensure story coherence. This is a near-industrial process. I get the impression that things are less well organised in Europe."
In a series the number of dialogues is limited as well: 300 dialogues for a 30-minute episode. The work of the storyboarders counts greatly in the writing process. Jesse Cleverly explains that if he is given 140 lines of dialogue whereas he only needs 120 for a 10-minute episode, he cuts out jokes to maintain meaning. In this case, the storyboarder can add visual gags. He thinks that in Europe the dialogues are often drafted too early on in the process. For himself he prefers spending a lot of time on the 15 or 20 key points of the story, while the story should first be able to "stand on its own" without dialogue.
He affirms: "Over-written or over-long scenarios do not work in storyboarding. Our method is to write the elements, dialogue-free. Then we move to the storyboard where several dialogues are added. Even without sound, a good draft makes it possible to understand what’s going on in the series."
Question: Are there things which just can’t be written for certain cultures?
Clélia Constantine: "Sometimes constraints can yield more creativity. Depending on the age groups, cultural issues or pitch dissimilarities can open opportunities for creating different projects. The Simpsons was produced by a single studio. And it’s the same thing for anime: Japan created specifically for Japan. The productions need broadcasters so as to obtain funding to carry out their projects, and the broadcasters often have a very strong idea of what audiences want."
Thomas Meyer-Hermann: "The Simpsons did very well because it targeted only a single market. An audience in one country can accept another culture, just as is the case for Japanese anime. It’s important that broadcasters be warned away from being overly strict on cultural differences and creatives who can adapt to different broadcasters should be followed. Japanese culture is very well accepted since people love to experience novel things. Many of these anime are very well made; they produce with both adults and teens in mind. No one in Europe is doing anything close."
Question: What advice would you give to people who want to be part of an international co-production?
Clélia Constantine: "Before becoming creatives, you must learn the basics of writing. Notes and remarks should serve to improve scenarios."
Jesse Cleverly: "Everything’s changing so quickly. Linear broadcasting will be replaced by digital. Broadcasting must reach a wide-ranging audience, whereas VOD makes it possible to attain worldwide standards. If you want to write for TV you must study the market, examine the differences between broadcasters, between comedy and action... It will be easier if you know, ahead of time, what the broadcaster is hoping for. France, Germany, the USA, Canada and Australia are top-target destinations for an international producer.
Our broadcasting mode is changing. All these films require sensations every two seconds, otherwise you lose your viewership. This is a trend which we’re noting on the web as well. YouTube does not appear to be a forum for quality, rather this would be Vimeo or Hulu. We’re moving toward a video-accessible-to-all configuration. With VOD, audiences do not want to order productions that are only so-so. You must produce ingenious works which people will recommend to others. New behavioural patterns are emerging so rapidly that it’s dizzying – but it’s enthralling too."
Drafted by Alain Andrieux, ITZACOM, France
Translated by Sheila Adrian
The Annecy 2014 Conferences Summaries are produced with the support of:
In collaboration with the Guilde des Scénaristes